JACKSON, Miss. – The Mississippi Department of Public Safety (DPS) will reinstate the driver’s licenses of all Mississippi drivers whose licenses were suspended due to non-payment of fines, fees, or assessments, and will no longer suspend licenses simply because a person fails to make such court-ordered payments. DPS will continue to suspend driver’s licenses for all other reasons available under Mississippi law. The change in policy was announced today by the DPS, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law.
Under the new procedures, DPS will also waive its $100 reinstatement fee, will notify these drivers that their licenses are no longer suspended and—if their licenses have expired since they were suspended—will instruct motorists how to reinstate them. The process of reinstating driving privileges for affected drivers is expected to start in January, and letters will be sent to all drivers who benefit from the new policy. DPS has hired dedicated staff to restore the affected licenses. Drivers with a suspended license should wait until they receive written confirmation from DPS that their license has been reinstated before driving.
Additionally, DPS will no longer suspend licenses solely for non-payment. Drivers with multiple reasons for suspension will have non-payment removed from their driving records as a basis for suspension, and DPS will notify them regarding the reason their licenses remain suspended. Those other reasons for suspension will remain in place and the license will remain suspended until the driver gets those other reasons for suspension cleared.
According to DPS, this official policy will remain in place unless and until future significant developments occur, such as a statutory change. Drivers impacted by this policy are not relieved of any existing obligation to pay fines, fees, or assessments.
Marshall Fisher, Director of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, commented, “We will continue to suspend licenses for other reasons allowed under Mississippi law, and we certainly take it seriously when people drive with suspended licenses. The reinstatement of these licenses will not relieve the drivers of the legal obligation to pay the fines, fees, or assessments. Driver’s licenses will continue to be suspended for all other reasons available under Mississippi law, including but not limited to suspension pursuant to a court order finding a driver in contempt for failure to pay a fine or fee or failure to respond to a traffic summons or citation.” Fisher added, “The process of discontinuing suspension of licenses due solely to the nonpayment of fines, fees or assessments will remain in place until future significant developments occur, such as a statutory amendment.”
SPLC and the MacArthur Justice Center contend that Mississippi courts have not been following the law regarding collection of fines and fees, and both entities have been pursuing litigation throughout Mississippi addressing the rights of indigent defendants.
“We commend the state of Mississippi for taking steps to ensure that in the future, no one will lose their license if the only reason they failed to pay a traffic ticket is that they simply did not have enough money,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “We also welcome Mississippi’s decision to reinstate licenses that had been previously suspended because people were unable to pay.
“Poverty is not a traffic crime,” Brooke continued. “There is a growing recognition across the country that people should not face additional punishment just because of their poverty, and that includes taking away their driver’s licenses when they can’t pay fines.”
The policy changes came about after the SPLC and the MacArthur Justice Center raised concerns about the practices.
“Being poor in Mississippi is hard enough without having your license suspended just because you can’t afford to pay off outstanding fines,” said Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “We don’t have subways or other reliable public transportation in Mississippi, and a suspended license makes it impossible to legally drive to job interviews, take loved ones to the hospital, pick your kids up from school, or even go to church.”
It is estimated that more than 100,000 license holders are affected by this policy change. Licenses suspended for other reasons allowed under Mississippi law will remain suspended.
People who have questions about the status of their Mississippi driver’s license can call 601-987-1224 for more information.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org.
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center is a public interest law firm with offices in Chicago (Northwestern Law School), St. Louis, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Oxford, Mississippi (University of Mississippi School of Law). The MacArthur Justice Center litigates a wide range of civil rights cases, with particular emphasis in the area of criminal justice.